Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Briefing on the Protection of Humanitarian Space

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
July 16, 2021


Thank you so much for bringing us together to discuss this pressing issue. I also would like to thank you, Deputy Secretary-General Mohammed, Director-General Mardini, and Deputy Director Grosjean, for your compelling remarks.

Mr. President, a new and sickening trend has emerged: the deliberate targeting of humanitarian workers. We’ve heard with horror today, from briefers, the prevalence of such attacks. Attacks against doctors, aid workers, drivers. People delivering food, clean water, medicines. Attacks against hospitals and attacks against schools. Humanitarian workers are the world’s superheroes. They go into war zones unarmed. They do not support any side to any conflict. They voluntarily risk life and limb purely to save lives and alleviate suffering.

I have spent my career supporting their work – visiting refugee camps, meeting with humanitarian workers, and seeing their lifesaving work in action. Personally, I can only imagine how stressful it must be doing this difficult and dangerous work, day-in and day-out. The world owes humanitarian workers our unending gratitude. And yet, somehow, perversely, these heroes are being attacked, kidnapped, and sometimes killed.

These appalling incidents are far too common. Just last month, mine clearers from HALO Trust in Afghanistan were attacked, and three MSF aid workers in Tigray were killed. And you heard so many other examples today. Again, these humanitarian actors are not armed. Their security depends on host nations, parties to armed conflict, peacekeepers, communities, and Member States. It is our collective duty to ensure these impartial actors are protected. And it is our responsibility to listen to local and national aid workers, actively solicit their input, and implement real solutions for their security.

So, we call on Member States and all parties to conflicts to comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law and respect and protect the independence and neutrality of humanitarian organizations. It is time to give aid workers the protection and the security they deserve, so that they can do the world’s most important work. That is saving lives and creating livelihoods.

Beyond the danger faced by aid workers, humanitarian access is too often restricted in other ways. In Syria, one of the worst humanitarian crises, the Assad regime has put far too many conditions and limitations on the ability to deliver aid.

In Venezuela, one in three people are food-insecure. But for far too long, the World Health Program* was not able to reach desperately hungry people. We are greatly relieved they are finally able to begin operations. This represents a major break-through in humanitarian access. Now it is time to press further forward: we call on others to join the United States in urging Maduro’s regime to work with the UN, so the UN can again publish an independent humanitarian needs assessment to support the humanitarian response.

And in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, access by road and by air – along with electricity, telecoms, banking activity, and fuel supplies essential to aid delivery – are being denied. This is unconscionable – especially in the very place that woke the modern world up to the scourge of hunger. Aid workers must be permitted to provide unhindered humanitarian assistance in this region and stave off terrible famine.

In every humanitarian crisis around the world, COVID-19 has created more need and more difficult working conditions for aid workers. That’s why we support the Secretary-General’s statement and the Security Council’s resolve in UN Security Council Resolution 2532, calling for a global ceasefire, while continuing to conduct legitimate counterterrorism operations.

Finally, as noted by the briefers, policies addressing humanitarian assistance, sanctions, and counterterrorism issues are often intertwined. We must make sure these policies are not conflicting, but mutually-reinforcing and do not compromise security. So, we support discussions on how to facilitate humanitarian assistance in contexts where there are applicable UN Security Council sanctions, while seeking to ensure that Member States are fully complying with their international obligations under international humanitarian law.

Humanitarian workers represent the best of us and they deserve our protection. And as Mr. Mardini said, without exceptions. So today, let us recommit ourselves: to protecting them, to holding those that threaten them accountable, and to ensuring they have the space and the resources they need to serve the world.

Thank you, Mr. President.


*World Food Program